Buy Shaver

Larry Becker Contemporary Art

THE EXPANSIVE ABSTRACT PAINTINGS in Buy Shaver's recent show display varied theoretical strategies: Some are absorbed in purely perceptual investigations, while others give a quick nod to formalism before heading off into the territory of ambiguity and metaphor. Among the conventionally strict examples is B.T.M.A.O. (White Square), 1998, a small canvas consisting of enameled rectangles of color in a lateral, bannerlike rhythm interrupted by a single insistent white square. A more animated perceptual jolt is caused by Red Flag, 2000, in which four distinct sections of gridded black and red meet with a kind of visual stutter. Other paintings create a disorienting experience for the viewer by refusing the rectangle's right angles: In the sculptural Full Farewell, 1999, two thick, oddly shaped canvases are pressed together in a “kiss,” sealed by the uniform turquoise paint and by the silent tension between their oblique angles and the planes of the gallery's ceiling and floor.

ILIU (Destroyer), 1999, is a subtler investigation of visual tension, as the forms on the parallelogram-shaped painting create the illusion that the top and bottom of the canvas are not quite parallel. The title ensures that the viewer won't miss the four letters in the painting, where they might otherwise appear as a series of abstract shapes and bends. Once identified, however, the letters reject our desire to read them and revert to pure form. Language is engaged more directly in Ape Shit, 1999, a large, humorous work in which each of seven panels holds one letter of the title. The palette of yellow and red with black and white, the carefully considered, form-fitted letters within the panels, and the sense of their arrangement all exclaim “Mondrian” in a highbrow voice that contrasts with the street enthusiasm of the spelled-out expression. With the inclusion of language, or at least the signs of language, Shaver is not reaching for Lucy Lippard's dematerialized object but instead proposes another material, visual form (like the vocabulary of abstraction itself) to contribute to the inclusive poetics the artist wishes to achieve.

Shaver is at his best when engaging these democratic hybrids that are constantly renegotiating their spheres of meaning. When he turns his attention from language considerations, it's often to explore how paintings might lose themselves in the world of common things. The show's most provocative example of this, Monument for Stay, 2000, invited us back to an airy realm of possibility where each part is aware of the others in a Cézannean way. Leaning against the wall, this large, shaped wood panel was open through the lower center section. Could it be an angular letter “C” turned on its side? (With the alphabet atmosphere in the gallery, “reading” these paintings went beyond postmodern rhetoric.) Letters aside, this image might evoke a rather grand fireplace mantel—a more likely support for the woman's purse that sat on the top edge of the panel. But the way both objects—each painted white with a matching pattern of linear crosses, cherry red on the panel, sky blue on the purse—reflected the white light of the bright gallery space implied an outdoor context, perhaps the setting for a not-so-triumphal arch, reminding us that the urge to know and name what we're looking at could lead to a number of alternate conclusions. This work remained open. Its playful yet rigorous mix of painting's history, interior design, and fashion indicated not what it might mean, but the many levels on which it might have meaning.

Eileen Neff